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5 of the Biggest Threats to Pollinators

By Ta’Leah Van Sistine, Marketing & Communications Intern

There is a certain awe and wonder surrounding the natural bloom of a flower. Their vibrant colors and unique appearances occupy what were previously empty spaces and transform what was once dull into pure beauty. To appreciate the existence of flowers and plant growth, however, requires us to remember the creatures that pollinate them.

Butterflies, bumblebees, moths, ants and more are among the insects that enable the fertilization and production of seeds through pollination. They ensure that future generations of flowers and plants continue to bloom year after year, helping maintain our fragile ecosystem. Yet, to this day, there are several factors that threaten the existence of pollinators, and, thus, our very own survival.

Habitat Loss

hummingbird drinking from flower

Habitat loss is the most prevalent issue affecting pollinators today. The caterpillar population is especially impacted by habitats that are lost to causes including agriculture and urban and suburban development. Some pollinators are still able to benefit from lost habitats when the areas have pollinator plants, but many bees and butterflies are habitat-specific, which means that when they lose their habitat, they lose the places where they overwinter, nest and find pollen or nectar.

Non-Native Species

black swallowtail PC John Oates Photography

Black Swallowtail butterfly PC: John Oates Photography

When non-native plants, flowers or other animals thrive in the environment they’re put in, they disrupt the way of life for pollinators native to that area. Invasive species, such as garlic mustard , phragmites, purple loosestrife and buckthorn, are especially harmful to pollinators because they take over where they are planted. For example, autumn olive and other non-native shrubs sometimes crowd and suffocate wildflowers that butterflies and bees use for pollen, nectar and larval food. These native plants then have to compete with the invasive plants to attract pollinators and eventually they disappear, causing the pollinators to run out of food sources. Also, many non-native or hybrid plants that are introduced into an environment typically don’t produce as much nectar or pollen as native plants do. While non-native flowers may look pretty, they don’t always act as the best food source for pollinators.

Parasites & Diseases

 

bumblebee

Parasites and diseases are a natural part of life, but a double-edged part of our modern world is frequent travel and trade between countries. Because of this, parasites and diseases can be more easily and frequently transmitted across the globe. Parasites and diseases that may have originally been separated by natural boundaries like oceans or mountains can now be unintentionally but easily introduced to new areas by people. Pollinators native to the area haven’t developed a resistance to new disease and there are likely no natural predators in the area to a new parasite either, making it difficult for a pollinator to survive. For example, varrora mites and hive beetles can infest a bee hive, causing Colony Collapse Disorder and eventual death of the hive. Ultimately, non-native parasites and diseases will infect native species.

Pesticides & Herbicides

little girl looking at butterfly PC John Oates Photography

PC: John Oates Photography

Not only is the misuse of pesticides, herbicides and neonicotinoids harmful toward pollinators, but when they are used correctly, they can still drift from where they were initially sprayed into nearby pollinator populations. These chemicals can contaminate the pollen grains that bees and other pollinators consider to be their essential food source. Sometimes pesticides with “persistent chemicals” even remain in the environment for longer periods of time before they degrade, which prolongs the negative impact they may have on pollinators and their pollinator plants.

Climate Change

Global warming and the altering climate affects pollinators’ migratory patterns. For example, when flowering plants pop up in cooler habitats, due to warming temperatures, their pollinators may not move in sync with them and, thus, miss their pollinating window. Furthermore, research shows that pollinators, like bumble bees, are struggling to adapt to cooler temperatures in general. If they do attempt to adapt, they may displace other pollinators that are naturally accustomed to those areas.

sisters with wings PC John Oates Photography

PC: John Oates Photography

Between our staff, volunteers and visitors, we all share a passion for the plants and pollinators that thrive in the Garden and throughout the world. Let’s work together to become knowledgeable about how pollinators are threatened and ensure we’re doing our part to protect them.

To learn more about the importance of native pollinators in our ecosystem and what you can do to help support them in your own back yard with the plants they love, check out our Butterflies & Blooms exhibit or our website for additional resources. The exhibit is open daily from 10 am-5 pm through August 31.

You can also join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge and plant your own pollinator paradise with these simple garden designs made in partnership with the Wild Ones – Green Bay Chapter and Stone Silo Prairie Gardens. You can buy these plants at local nurseries like Stone Silo Prairie Gardens, too!

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